Legal reforms that improve the security of private property rights to land have characteristics of a public good with dispersed benefits. However, nothing ensures that the state will provide property protection as a public good. Some states provide property protection selectively to powerful groups. Others are unable to provide property protection. In this paper, we argue that whether the state provides property protection as a public good, selectively, or cannot establish private property rights depends on the following features of politics: political stability, government capacity to administer and enforce private property rights, constraints on political decision-makers, and the inclusivity of political and legal institutions. We illustrate the theory using evidence from reforms that increased opportunities to privately own land in the US from the late eighteenth through nineteenth centuries, selective enforcement of land property rights in China, and the absence of credible legal rights to land in Afghanistan.